Nov. 11, 2009
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By Brandon Swedberg
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The defending NCAA and Big Ten champion University of Iowa wrestling team has gone 45-1 over the last two dual seasons. The Hawkeyes open the 2009-10 season ranked first in both the USA Today Coaches Poll and in W.I.N. Magazine, but head coach Tom Brands believes nothing changes in preparation in regards to the rankings.
“It seems like it is real tight with those top two, three or four teams with regards to Cornell, Ohio State and Iowa State.” said Brands at a media day press conference Wednesday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Our job is to widen the gap and widen the gap as the year goes on. I mentioned three teams and you can throw Minnesota and Oklahoma State in there, you can throw a lot of teams in there. They will be improved and well-coached with hungry coaching staffs and hungry individuals. We know we have a job to do and our awareness will be at a high level.”
Iowa returns five All-Americans, two Big Ten champions and seven NCAA qualifiers from the 2009 NCAA national championship team. Last year’s squad went 24-0 in dual competition and captured the schools 33rd NCCA team title and 22nd Big Ten championship, but the 2009 team didn’t crown a NCAA individual champion which leaves the team eager for more.
“When things don’t go your way, you don’t roll over,” Brands said. “Sometimes you are going to be where you don’t want to be, you’ve got to scrap. If you don’t like the results and you don’t like getting your nose bloody, you’ve got to get up and get after it. You want to win 10 weights and they did what they had to do.”
Returning All-Americans from the 2008 and `09 teams are Daniel Dennis at 133 pounds, Joe Slaton at 133, Brent Metcalf at 149, Ryan Morningstar at 165, Jay Borschel at 174, Phillip Keddy at 184 and Dan Ereckson at 285.
Metcalf looks to make it to his third straight national final bout. He won the individual title in 2008, but his only loss last year came in the championship match. Metcalf’s overall collegiate record is 72-2.
“He is so ornery, he can’t even look at himself in the mirror,” Brands said of Metcalf. “I think he is on track and he has responded as best as you could expect.”
The ornery mindset is something Brands doesn’t mind from his wrestlers, especially when it comes to competition. The bigger the chip on the shoulder, the better the individuals will push each other according to Brands. There are two weight classes in which there is not a definitive starter — 141 and 157. Alex Tsirtsis left a hole to fill at 141 after being a four-year starter and an All-American; Matt Ballweg enters 2009 with the most starts at 157.
“There are some opportunities for guys,” Brands said. “When I’m talking about these wrestle-offs don’t mean anything, they actually mean a lot. It’s like a pecking order…they show where you are in your weight class. It gives you an opportunity to shake off some rust. You look at Dan LeClere (141) — he is the No. 1 guy for whatever reason. He’s got a job to do. And he is going to be head-to-head with (Joe) Slaton and (Montell) Marion at the Midlands. The Midlands will be a big proving ground at those weight classes.”
The battle for a starting spot in the two weight classes is a positive according to Brands, but another battle has to be won first in order to wrestle: academics.
“Our guys get it done academically too,” Brands said. “The academics are even more of an emphasis to us. When you look at our team, we are getting it done there, and that is important to us. And we’ve talked all about performance and the schedule and the competition, but our guys get it done academically, too. You talk about our seniors and the guys that went to Virginia Tech, those guys are academic All-Americans. We are proud about what we are doing there, for sure.”
With a 38 dual-match winning streak, it would be safe to say the Iowa wrestling team is dominating their competition. But Brands would second-guess that statement.
“When you talk about dominating, lets get the guy who defined it in college wrestling and he would probably hit me in the side of the head if I said it,” Brands said referring to Dan Gable. “We won everything and that was certainly important. There were some dual meets that we had to scrap to win. The national duals we got ourselves in a couple holes and scrapped back. Domination is when you can sit in a chair, cross your feet and fold you arms and think this is domination. And your ticker isn’t going too hard, but there were a lot of times [last year] when your ticker was up. From a team point of view we won everything, but we are geared to widen the gap.”
Iowa will get a chance to widen the gap and win its third straight national title when the team opens the season Nov. 14 at the Harold Nichols Open in Ames. The first home dual will be the Iowa City Duals on Nov. 20 at Carver Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes will wrestle Coe College, Cornel College, Iowa Lakes Community College, North Carolina-Pembroke and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.